That’s The Jingle Bell Part II

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Although it’s been said many times, many ways, I adore Annapolis. 

How many times can you or I praise something before it loses it’s shine, and it starts to feel transparent?  Well when you give authentic love and energy to anything, I don’t think there can ever be enough praise.

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One year ago I was invited to the most charming of holiday parties, at the Red Red Wine Bar, which in time for the holidays transformed themselves as the Jingle Bell Bar.  I know, how awesome right?  Last year’s story can be found here.

The amazing decorations, displays, lights, tinsel, trees, and so much that I don’t remember it all was back.   The great customer service was back.  And most of all the event was helped to support the amazing organization, Anne Arundel County CASA.

I’ve mentioned CASA several times in the past in this blog, and it’s wonderful organization with wonder people behind this operation.  I know feel like I’m part of the family and consider several people involved dear friends, as well as family.  It’s a blessing to be a part of something so genuine and so loving.

And being a part of these most wonderful, organic, and fun loving events makes it all the more merrier.  And it’s magnified during the month of December.

Let’s face it, our schedules are loaded and bloated with events that we either feel obligated to, torn about or may look forward too.  Some might me too big for their own good, or might be thrown for the sake of it with no soul.

This event was loaded with soul.  It was a great time with great people, and while the bar was busy, you never had to fight to get a drink or have yourself heard.  CASA also had a guest bartender for a couple of hours that added another level of charm to the event.  And yes this was an event on the calendar I was looking forward too.

And yes, being in Annapolis (here’s my Annapolis history that keeps on growing) just wraps it up in a pretty bow and screams Merry Christmas.   It almost seems too good to be true, but it isn’t.  Sometimes towns are that picturesque that it deserves as much as love from its locals and from visitors like myself.

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Now onto the pizza.  Last year, I did two pies and I had to go back and make sure I would’t accidentally make a repeat.  So here goes.

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First was the Eastern Shore.  This is barbecue chicken, with red onions, mozzarella, and marinara sauce.  I’ve had bbq chicken on pies that have been absolute disasters.  It’s real easy to screw up if you’re not careful.  That’s why when a place does it right, it deserves a lot of credit.  And this was really good.  I don’t know if this was my favorite bbq chicken but there’s a lot going for it.

A lot can go wrong when barbecue sauce, cheese, and the pizza sauce clash.  And all of these principles can taste fine but may not mesh well when molded together.  This was a great effort.  But what really stands out is the crust and those onions.   I could eat these red onions for days.  And the way this pizza was heated was done perfectly.  The pictures tell more than I can.

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But the Gus is the pizza you want to get.  Oh my goodness this was something.  This may have been cooked better than the Eastern Shore.  This was per our bartenders’, Bethany (whom we met last year at the same event), recommendation, and it never had a chance.

I mean it really never had a chance.  I was lucky to have a slice.  This is the one everyone was drawn to.   The cheese and sauce complemented the trios of ham, sausage, and pepperoni to perfection.  This was exquisite.  I’m craving one right now.   That only means…

I will be back.  I promised that if I were afforded the opportunity and pleasure to come back to this same party one year later, that I would revisit some of their pizzas, and maybe their wine.    More on that wine later…

A huge thanks to Bethany and Abby for helping with the pizza and wine suggestions.

This was great, this was a wonderful occasion with equally wonderful people, that represent a great organization that is Anne Arundel County CASA.  And to partner up with the friendly folks at Red Red Wine Bar is a winning Christmas combination.

For more on Red Red Wine Bar, here is their menu, their hours and location, and their backstory.

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And for more on Anne Arundel County CASA, here is more about them, and how to get involved.

Annapolis has my heart, and so did everything about this event.

I will be back. Actually, I have been back a couple of times over the year in between events, but not to write about.  I waited for this.

If there’s to be a trilogy, I will patiently wait one more year.   But honestly, where did one year go?  I felt like I was admiring this holiday decor just the other day.

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And we’ll admire it again.

Happy Holidays and Peace Be With You.

Ideen

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Love This Weekend

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Sometimes life works out, the planets and stars align, and the universe does look out for you.  It looks out for us in more ways than we realize.  We might not always see it.  I know I don’t always see it.   And even with all the good that is about to transpire this weekend,  I may not fully grasp how beautiful the next few days are going to be, until way after its over.  I know I’ll love it while it’s happening, but I’ll look back fondly on it even more as time goes by.  This is more than nostalgia or reminiscing.  Some thing just hit you.  You wish time would stand still, you could do this all day, you could do this forever, and you could be around these people forever.

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What I’m referring to is the annual CASAblanca Gala presented by Anne Arundel County CASA, this Saturday, November 4th.

I mentioned Anne Arundel County, which is synonymous with Annapolis.  I’ve said plenty of good about our state capitol in the past, yet I can never say enough.

My dear friend Rebecca is the Executive Director of Anne Arundel County CASA, and it’s an amazing time to share with friends and to support a wonderful cause.  This their 20th year holding the event, which takes place at the beautiful Westin Hotel in Annapolis.   It’s my third year attending, and the third time is a charm to finally write about…

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Carpaccio Tuscan Kitchen is literally footsteps from the Westin, and has been as convenient and a go-to for me as any.  Well why do I say convenient and go to?  Isn’t this a sit-down restaurant with fine dining, a place to relax, and appreciate the food and surroundings?  Well yes, but I’ve actually never eaten here.   What I’m actually referring to is Carpaccio 2go which is adjacent to the restaurant, and I mean this with all sincerity, looks like something I’ve never seen.   I almost feel like it’s too good to be true in a way.  I don’t know how to explain it but the location is perfect, and I can’t exactly put my finger on why.

Maybe because many pizza places with slices to go don’t look as beautiful as this.  But if you look around the vicinity, the tiny of white colors of the building, the hotel, and the residential units across the way, all match.  While the area looks pricey, and of course it is, it almost feels supernatural in a way.  Again, it’s all open to your interpretation, but there’s an architectural and metaphysical force that worked in concert with each other to create all this.  In some ways, it”s almost too beautiful.  But I should appreciate all the beauty for what it is.

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I’ve been to the carry out side many times and because of the location and the aura I was feeling, I had immensely high expectations.  Now, not every time is going to be mentioned or will every slice be featured.  I will reserve it to two visits for now, which means a total of four slices.

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The first visit I will discuss was back in late Summer.  Now it’s hot and pizza is hot, so what am I trying to say?  I really don’t know haha, but my slices on this day were the Sausage and Peppers, and then Chicken Pollo. Now I know what I was trying to say.  I think some slices work better in different climates, similar to how we drink wine, and how we eat other foods during certain times and certain seasons.

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While I’ve had mainly good experiences here, I know the best was still to come.  The sausage and peppers with onions was really good, and went great with your standard mozzarella cheese slice.  I will say without sounding like a broken record, the crusts on all these slices were heated tremendously.  You can see the colors across the board.  There was a lot of time and care put into the making of the dough and the heating.  You don’t need to be an expert.   You can just tell those things.

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Now I had high aspirations for the pesto.  I’ve ranted and raved about my love for pesto throughout my journey, and I wanted to love this one so much.  It was good but I know the best was still to come.  The pesto aioli was fantastic.  Maybe for me the white pizza with chicken, tomatoes, and those yummy mushrooms (more on the mushrooms shortly), caused a little bit of the flavors to be lost.   But still a good slice I would definitely have again.

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Now moving on to earlier this week, this is where expectations were matched and succeeded.

It almost seemed like the pizzas on display looked shinier and brighter, and I could do no wrong no matter what I ordered.  I was spot on and then some.

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The Margherita looks like art and tastes like art.  The marinara sauce is heavenly.  The photo doesn’t say it all but it says a lot.  Oh my goodness.  This is up there with one of the better slices I’ve had. The basil, garlic, mozzarella, and olive oil just makes this simple pizza one of the best I’ve had not just here but anywhere.  And the crust was even better today.

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Not to be outdone is the Wild Mushroom.  I love mushrooms and can have them with just about anything.  But when you throw gorgonzola, you’ve got to be kidding me, this is a gem.  Cremini and portobello mushrooms really make this pie but the combination of two contrasting cheese in mozzarella and gorgonzola also make this an absolute masterpiece.

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Recall how I said you look back on things with even more love and romanticism as time goes by?  This is how I felt about this visit.  I’ve been here many times and something about this one was just a cut above the rest.  I sensed it and maybe the universe did too.  This won’t be the last time I  talk about them.  The next time will be from the actual restaurant itself, which is gorgeous inside and in the patio area as well.  If you’ve visited then you know I’m talking about.   Yes I’ve never eaten there but was in awe of what I saw.

For more on Carpaccio, here is their menu (which serves many of the same pizzas as Carpaccio 2go, click here to make a reservation, their story, and contact information.

It’s going to be a beautiful weekend in the Annapolis area.  Not only is the CASAblanca Gala going to be amazing, but I’ll also be at the First Sunday Arts Festival footsteps away on West Street the following day.  It will be their holiday edition, yes it’s that time of year already. In addition is the Bay Bridge 10k this Sunday, the Eastport vs. Annapolis Tug Of War on Saturday, and the City of Annapolis General Elections are this Tuesday.  

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What an exciting time to be in the area.  If Annapolis wasn’t great enough, all these events just make this place all the more magical.

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It all begins with CASAblanca and I so greatly look forward to it.

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For more on Anne Arundel County CASA, here is more about them, volunteer, and donation information.

Thanks so much and I look forward to an incredible weekend!

Peace be with you and happy beginning to the holiday season…

Ideen

 

 

Friend(s) of CASA

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This is a different post than the usual.  I’m going to get to the pizza right away, then focus on something of greater magnitude and importance.

This week brings me to the Federal Hill neighborhood of Baltimore.  In the heart of everything are all the bars and restaurants on Cross Street.  And within that is the highly popular, Social Pub & Pie.

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I’ve patronized this establishment quite a few times over the past few years, but never actually got to try their pizza.  It’s just how things work out I suppose.  The everything happens for a reason, and how things will work out, also applies here.  More on that after the reviews.

In anticipation of wonderful event coming up this Sunday, October 1st, I thought it was only right to discuss pizzas briefly, and then we’ll focus on something more significant.

I had every intention of making two separate visits, which would mean two pies.  I’m pretty good at math right?  Well, fortunately for me, and a great gesture by Social, they do half and half pies.  Which means I’m going to review for for you today.  And this fact can’t be discounted.  I’m grateful I got to expand my horizons a little bit.

And I broke down both visits by first doing a tomato based pies, and then the second would be the whites.

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First up, the Margherita and the Sausage and Peppers, better known as the Angelo.

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That looks pretty doesn’t it?  I will say that the thin crust was a pleasant surprise.  I was expecting something mega.  But then when I figured out these were wood fired pies, I was looking forward to a lighter and flakier crust.  And that’s exactly what we got.  The Angelo was really good.  With the latter having some fantastic sweet sausage that really makes this pie stand out.  I was in the mood for a little something different and this fits the bill.  The onions and peppers tasted fresh.  The Margherita is exactly what you would expect.  I wouldn’t say it was anything out of the ordinary, but it was solid.

 

I love the presentation and it makes for a great visual.

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But the whites is where things really went to another level.  For visit two, I went with the Spinach and the Onion Crumbled Bleu.   The caramelized onions on both were tremendous.  I have fondness for them in general and this did not disappoint.   The veggies on the spinach were good, but it was the Onion Crumbled Bleu that really stood out.  And I give all credit to the addition of Rosemary.  Yes there’s bleu cheese crumbles and provolone, and while they add something, the rosemary takes this to another place that I didn’t know existed.  If I’ve had rosemary on a pie before I don’t remember.  Either that, or just this just blew everything out of the water.  I can see where these cheeses, the olive oil, and that powerful rosemary taste can backfire.  Not here.  This was incredible.

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If you could only get one pie here, I’d go with the Onion Crumbled Bleu. And that’s without me trying so many fun looking pies on the menu.  Well I can always come back.

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Their website is easy to navigate, so pretty much all the information you need is all found on the main page.

But onto something of greater consequence and importance, my dear friend Rebecca is the Executive Director of Anne Arundel County CASA, Inc.  And her organization will be hosting an event, the Ultimate Tailgate Party at Social Pub & Pie this Sunday (10/1/17) from 9a-12p, where ALL food and liquor sales will be donated to CASA.  How awesome is that?  How often do you hear of all proceeds going anywhere?

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A small percentage is always amazing, but to go above and beyond like this speaks volumes of the management of Social Pub, but also speaks volumes of the people at CASA.

Me and many of our friends have been supporters of CASA, for a number of years, so we know how amazing organizers, the volunteers, the events, and most importantly, the cause is.

I like to think of myself as a friend of CASA.  They even gave me a name tag with my name on it that read, ‘Friend of CASA’, on it, so it must be true.

But regardless, with all the events going on this weekend, this one I would highly suggest attending.  This will be in the private room on the second floor, so you can enjoy a good time with your friends in a more intimate setting, while still getting excited for any football game you’ll either be attending or watching

A gathering of good friends while supporting a more-than-worthwhile cause is what life is all about.  And I’m honored to be a supporter, and honored to be able to write about it here.

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Here are your links to know more about Anne Arundel County, CASA, how to volunteer, how to get involved, or to make donation.

Here are my previous CASA related posts for your reading pleasure (here, there, and, everywhere)

Sunday is going to be fun.  If you’re in the area, bring your friends, your pals, and anyone else that wants to take part in something beautiful.

We’ll see you then.  Peace be with you.

Ideen

 

That’s The Jingle Bell Bar

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That everything happens for a reason cliche is a legitimate thing.   I was all set to do a review of an experience at Red Red Wine Bar back in the spring.   As luck would have it, my phone died as I was getting pictures of our pizzas and vino, while enjoying a casual outdoor setting in Downtown Annapolis.  I took it as a couple things, 1) this is not the way this wine bar was meant to be portrayed, and 2) the universe had grander plans for me.  And is that an understatement if there ever was one.

No matter what goes on in life, one thing I know for sure, the holidays bring out the best in us.  We go through a million emotions all year, and all of a sudden it’s Thanksgiving, and then it’s December.  What the heck happened here?   That time to reflect, to appreciate, and spread love magically appears this time of year.   Wouldn’t be great it you felt that all of the time?

Downtown Annapolis always feels like Christmas to me.  It has the old world, small town, welcoming feel that radiates an aura of holiday spirit 365 days a year.  That might be an exaggeration, but it’s the feeling I get.  And that’s no accident.  Different neighborhoods bring different feelings.  It’s up to us to choose to embrace it or move along.    Well I’m embracing and moving forward.

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So we move along nearly eight months later, and this was meant to be.  However, this time, it wasn’t the Red Red Wine Bar.  They transformed themselves into a winter wonderland and holiday spectacle, happily titled, the Jingle Bell Bar.

This bar is something else.  The set-up with all the lavish decorations screams holiday cheer.  If this didn’t get you in the spirit than I’m not sure what else might.

Actually, it was my dear friend’s event that brought us here tonight.   The Anne Arundel County, Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA, for short, has done so much good for the community of Annapolis and nearby.  I’m proud to have volunteered and been associated with some wonderful and unique parties and events.  I’m grateful for that.  And I was grateful for this one.

They had a guest bartender on hand, and part of everyone’s check and tips went to CASA. It’s a win win for everyone.

I  could just sense going in that this was going to be an awesome time.  Sometimes you just know.  When you’re connected with a good community, it’s only going to bring about more of that community.  The folks in attendance were there for the same reason, to celebrate this fantastic organization and the holidays.   I felt so at home.  I think everyone else did too.

After all that, how was the pizza?  To make up for last time, I went with two pies, and was happy to share them with friends, old and new.

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I went with the two that I feel most represented this season, with their flavors, ingredients, and overall presentation.

First up, was the White Chicken on Roasted Garlic Flat Bread.   The look of this was fantastic.   For the simple fact that one of the toppings was garlic puree  is why I went with the garlic flat bread.  It did make me wonder how it would taste with the wheat.  That chicken tasted fresh and organic.   I love brussels sprouts, caramelized onions, and butternut squash.  Tell me another trio that spells out the holidays more than that?  This was a really good pie, but I almost felt like I didn’t get a taste of the squash or onions in every bite.  That could be me trying too hard to find them or some flavors overpowering the other.  Hence why I wonder how the wheat flat bread would turn out.  Nevertheless, my new friends and I finished this wonderful arrangement in mere minutes.  And I would definitely order this pizza again.

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But the quintessential pie of the holiday season might just be the Pear Prosciutto.  You’ve got to be kidding me.   I confirmed with one of the manager’s, Bethany (who was world class by the way), on which pizza to go with.  I’m glad we were on the same page.

Oh my and Christmas was this one of the best things I’ve eaten in sometime.  This is a must with wheat bread.   This is a throwback to my childhood.  And isn’t what Christmas and the holidays does to us sometimes?  The combination of honey, feta, and wheat on a piece of warm and toasty pita bread (usually wheat) alone is something I share with my family, especially my dad, and continue to this way.  So I felt warm inside before even noshing.  And when I finally noshed, everything was confirmed. This is one I’ll be thinking about for a long time.  The pears, prosciutto, and arugula are what you see immediately.  But to me, the heart is the honey, feta, olive oil, and minced garlic.  Again, that’s a family thing.   I’m getting emotional as I expound on this.  I’m getting goose bumps.  I’m not kidding you.

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And combining these pizzas with good people, good wine (click here to read more about the wines), a festive vibe, and a great cause, this is a win-win and then some.

I love this place.  Let me reiterate.  I LOVE this place.  Nestled in the heart of Downtown Annapolis automatically makes a place welcoming.  But there was something special about this night.

Once again, a huge thank you to Bethany for helping me with everything when it came to pizza and wine suggestions.

I’m ecstatic to have been a part of something so special.  I look forward to my next visit to Red Red Wine Bar.   And if you’re in the area I strongly recommend you do the same.

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Here is their story and their contact info.

For my Annapolis Pizza History, click here.

For more on Anne Arundel County CASA and all the good that they do, click here.

And for the last inspiring CASA experience, click here.

This was a holiday party for the books.  I’m so thankful and appreciative to have been a part of this.  All many of us want for the holidays, and out of life, is to feel good.  This event and this bar checks of all the boxes.

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To a safe and happy holiday season,

Ideen

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Love Luna

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The stars aligned for this one, big time.  I’ve been fully engrossed in these blogs for well over a year-and-a-half.  The best experiences are the ones that happen organically and unplanned.  That fact has been reiterated many times over.  But I can’t say it enough.  Life can be magical and majestic if you let it.   This leads me to what I’ll look back on fondly and say it was one of my favorite experiences, Luna Blu of Annapolis, MD.

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Just a day removed from writing this, I found myself in beautiful Downtown Annapolis and got in touch with a dear friend who works in the vicinity.  In previous attempts, timing wasn’t in sync and schedules didn’t always match.  It’s only because the first encounter was meant to be on this day.  You know I have a flair for the dramatics but this story and the build-up has to be told.

We met at her office and after doing the grande tour, we reconvened on where to get food. After a few suggestions on where to eat in her town, she suggested a place where she has had an outstanding working relationship. Yes, the aforesaid Luna. And she mentioned they served pizza.  The theme of thoughtfulness is going to permeate throughout this post.   She recalled my blog and this was the perfect merging of everyone benefiting from this visit.

I rarely mention names here, mainly for the sake of imagination and letting the experience tell the story itself.  But in this case it’s necessary.  My dear friends’ name is Rebecca and she runs Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA for short) of Anne Arundel County.  In the past she mentioned how generous Luna Blu has been in helping with her events.  I’ve lucky to have been a part of several events and seen the multiple bottles of wine and food donated to CASA.  It’s a beautiful thing when people help one another.  It inspires me to want to do more when I see the height of altruism.  I get those warm and fuzzy feelings.  And you can never have enough of those.

On this beautiful Summer day this translated into our meal.  And I mean from top to bottom.  I was introduced briefly to the owner Erin, who was everything Rebecca says she was and more.

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With the gorgeous day, the sunny skies, and the positive energy radiating all over, everything else would be gravy.  Luckily, we didn’t order gravy.  We glanced over the menu and saw they do lunch combos.    I would love to do that another time but instead we split the Spinach Salad with Grilled chicken, and the main event, the Chicken Pesto Pizza.

 

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How many times have I sung the praises of pesto over these many months?  This may have been the best display of this most magnificent of sauces.  And the actual presentation of our za reminded me of large pies I used to get when I was a kid on family outings.  I responded like a kid when this yummy goodness came out of the oven and onto our table.   The salad and the chicken was delicious.  The same authentic pieces of grilled chicken were piled on high on our pie.

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Chicken, mushrooms, pesto, ricotta, and mozzarella is a combination for the ages.  The pesto and ricotta blended together is a first for me.   Maybe I never paid close attention to similar pizza styles I’ve had in the past, but this was art.

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This is the New York Style I’m more accustomed to.  It wasn’t the typical crunchy NY Style pizza I’ve been getting at many pizzerias lately.  This was its own style, its own class, and in a universe all its own.  The golden brown that circled the crust was almost too pretty to eat.  Fact of the matter is the whole pizza itself was just so stunning.  Yes I took a lot of pictures and numerous ones have been posted.

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On one of the hottest days of the year thus far, we each barely had a slice.  That just meant a couple of days of meals.   The way the to go slices were prepped was as pleasant as the original order.  Our waitress (who was wonderful by the way) packaged each slice with wax paper in between each.  Who does that?  That’s the meticulous care you only get from a place that cares.  She mentioned they would taste even better reheated.  And boy she was right.  That’s the true test of a pizza.  Does it taste better after the original heating?  The answer is an infallible one.  Delish!

From the moment leading up to our meet up, the discussion, the walk up, the dining, and the departure was sheer perfection.   I love seeing good people succeed and great things happen to great people.  This is what’s happening here.

In a not so frequent instance, I will be back in a few month with a further elaboration.  The reasons will be obvious come round two.   And I’m going to love it.  I think you will too. Maybe I’ll try the Wine & Pizza Pairing on Thursday.    That wine list looks incredibly tempting.  I can’t wait to go back and try a glass or two, heck maybe a bottle.

Cozy and quaint describes the inside perfectly.  For a quiet place to dine and to detach from the rest of the world, this is your place.  I could go on with the superlatives all day, so I will…And here’s one more for the road! :

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This was the perfect Annapolis day.  I look forward to many more.  I love this town, and love to spend it with awesome people.

For more on CASA and all the good they do, click here.  For more on Luna Blu, click here.

More to come on this most inspiring of places.

Much Love,

Ideen